It’s been 20 years since University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay.
Since then, his parents have worked tirelessly to get federal hate crimes legislation passed and to create a foundation in honor of their son.
Sherpard’s friend, Jason Marsden, works at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the LGBTQ community.
“Our goal is to replace hate and ignorance with understanding compassion and acceptance,” says Marsden about the work of the foundation.
But the needle on that dial for change has been slow moving.
Since Shepard’s murder in 1998, five states--including Wyoming--still have no hate crime laws. Forty-five states have some version of hate crime legislation enacted, but Marsden says even those laws fall short.
“Close to half the states that have hate crime laws, they don't cover gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people,” explains Marsden.
Marsden and other activists have been working for years to change this, working with legislators in different states, all the way to Washington D.C. About nine years ago, they made a giant step in their fight for the LGBT community to be included in hate crime laws.
“In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Burg Junior Hate Crime Prevention Act was signed by President Obama, and we've been, for the last nine years, traveling all over the country, training police and prosecutors in how the law works, how it can protect the community and how it can be used to deliver justice,” says Marsden.
But in order to keep that candle burning, Marsden says they need the help of voters.
“We cannot afford to lose any human being to this sort of senseless violence, he says.
“I just would appeal to everyone's moral sensibilities to realize, it matters.”